The ride-hailing service Uber faces a class action lawsuit in California, which alleges drivers are terminated based on passenger evaluations that are discriminatory, leading to a disproportionate firing of minority drivers or those with accents.
The complaint (PDF) was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on October 26, claiming that the popular ride sharing service violates federal law by discriminating against minority drivers through the use of its star rating system.
Currently, after each ride Uber passengers are prompted to give the driver a rating, ranging from one to five stars, with five being the best. Uber policy requires drivers to stay above a certain rating or the company terminates employment.
Although Uber defends this policy and maintains the rating system helps keep rides safe and identify problematic driers, the class action lawsuit alleges passenger ratings are often racially biased.
The Uber class action lawsuit was filed by Thomas Liu, of San Diego, claiming the rating policy violates the federal civil rights of drivers and has resulted in the disproportionate firing of drivers of color and those with heavy accents.
The lawsuit claims using a rating system vulnerable to frequent racial bias to determine whether someone is fired constitutes both disparate impact discrimination as well as intentional discrimination against non-white drivers.
Liu stated in the lawsuit he was fired by Uber in 2015, after riders cancelled their scheduled ride upon seeing his photograph. Liu alleges the riders rudely asked where he was from after arriving for the pickup, to which the customers cancelled the ride and were hostile to him because of his race, and gave him an unfair rating. Following the negative reviews, Liu’s overall rating fell below a 4.6, resulting in his termination by Uber Technologies Inc.
Prior to the federal lawsuit, Liu filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after his termination, in which his case was dismissed in August after no determination could be made.
Uber is accused of continuing racially biased practices of termination despite publicly recognizing its passenger’s evaluation of drivers is discriminatory. Liu’s attorney’s claimed in the suit that “Uber tried to justify its refusal to add a method for passengers to tip drivers through the app based upon its assertion that passengers discriminate against racial minorities.” Uber previously expressed these potential discriminations could lead to unfair gaps in wages among different ethnicities and races of drivers.
In 2016, before the Uber app allowed tipping drivers, Uber defended its decision against tipping by pointing to studies that show white restaurant servers get better tips, in general, than black wait staff, due to unconscious biases, which could similarly occur in the ride sharing industry.
The lawsuit accuses Uber of race discrimination, specifically of being in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Liu and his attorneys are seeking class action status for the lawsuit, which would represent all minority Uber drivers across the country who have been terminated based upon Uber’s star rating system.
This is not the first time Uber has faced backlash for possible racial discrimination. Earlier this year a George Washington study suggested both Uber and Lyft’s algorithm for ride rates charge more for rides in non-white areas, and that black riders face higher cancellation rates and longer wait times than white riders.